The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 25, 2016

November 25, 1936

William McIlvanney (November 25, 1936 to December 5, 2015) was:

best known for his detective novel "Laidlaw" — called [by some] the first book of "Tartan Noir."..... His agent Jenny Brown said he died at his home in Glasgow on Saturday after a short illness. McIlvanney, born in the town of Kilmarnock, was the son of a miner. He became an English teacher before changing careers in 1975 to write fulltime. He is known for the "Laidlaw" trilogy, a crime series featuring Inspector Jack Laidlaw. Other works included "The Big Man," made into a film starring Liam Neeson, as well as poetry and journalism.

Here is an example of this poetry. “The Cowardly Lion”, written after the failure of the 1979 referendum on devolution, pictures a lion, roaring for freedom, which then loses its nerve when the cage is opened and “still lives among stinking straw today”.

There was a lion dormant with the mange 

It saw that keepers only keep the pats/
And it was present and its powerful paws
Could free it from injustice of the laws.
It took its strength and ran and the bars shook.

The keepers were afraid. They mustn't lose/
The cubs and revenues the lion gave.
It was a prize exhibit in their zoo.
They watched it lying down, ignore the mirror

And stare at them in hunger, leave the bowl.

An interview with McIlvanney illuminates the values of this author:

The novelist tells Stuart Kelly why he is haunted by the strangeness of modern society.

Officially, our interview is over. Ascending from a restaurant on Glasgow's Hope Street, William McIlvanney walks me to the station. I fumble for a cigarette, since the Scottish Executive's smoking ban forbids a puff indoors. McIlvanney gleams a mischievous, supernaturally youthful grin and says, "Thank God. There's a bar round the corner with an outside. If you'll allow me."

We sit outside in uncommonly good weather, with a brace of whiskies. But as the passers-by pass by, several don't. "Hey there Willy." "Whit you daein up here, McIlvanney?" He joshes and banters - one acquaintance tells us that he asked the boss for an afternoon off to "go drinking". There can be few novelists able to move seamlessly from A C Bradley's analysis of Shakespeare's heroes to street-bonhomie with sparkies, posties and cabbies.

It helps that McIlvanney is so recognisable. No, not recognisable: bloody handsome, and not just for a man entering his seventies. His eyes are still laser-blue, his outfit dapper; his hair may be grey, but it's still swept back in an almost Byronic manner. ...

At 19 - "a hell of a pretentious 19, and I was damn good at it" - he decided that he wanted to investigate "the people whose histories are parish registers, the unsung, the unheard, the uncelebrated". Docherty(1975) is now regarded as the quintessential Scottish novel of the period, a moving and impassioned account of the changes wrought on working-class life and morals. It was, as he says, an attempt to "democratise heroism. If literature is a testament to what it means to be alive, 98 per cent of the witnesses haven't been called."
...[F]ew authors yet have surpassed his achievement [with Laidlaw] : a genuinely philosophical crime novel....

....[T]he great McIlvanney themes...[are]  class, guilt, the power of the book, the difficulty of goodness ...

His writing is not against anything, it's pro those left out of "Literature". Nonetheless, he reacts, sometimes furiously, against the banality of the culture around him.

He wrong-foots me each time. I compare
Weekend [his last book] to the fragile, faltering examination of ethics in Iris Murdoch. "Please don't accuse me of that," he retorts. I am slightly dismissive of the prominence of J K Rowling in Edinburgh's City of Literature campaign, and he snaps back that "before all the nonsense, there were readers. She just wrote the book. Her agent even told her not to expect to earn back the advance". Mind you, he says, "I worry that the world's best-selling book is for children. We're re-regressing". He adores Kafka and To the Lighthouse and is, off the record, less than guarded about some of Scotland's better known names.
There is a political dimension to this elegant assault on vacuity. McIlvanney calls himself a social idealist rather than a socialist: "You've got to be careful about seeing things through an old fogey's eye, but there was a serious enterprise afoot during my youth - and it's no longer traceable."

Instead, he sees a world where anything goes and nothing is called wrong. "We enter murky waters here. One thing postmodernism has done is it's screwed up working-class values, with that erosion of absolute values. There were generations of commitment to basic decency in working-class life. You could only endure the welter of injustices with iron decencies. One Scottish Socialist Party politician claimed we shouldn't call young criminals 'neds'. We never called them neds, we called them bastards, and sorted them out.

"That's been lost: the working class saying you're messing it up for the rest of us: don't do it. How far are we along the road to cloud-cuckoo-land? It's like, be nice to your cancer nodes. We've got a socialism that can't say you shouldn't be doing that. That's not honouring the working-class tradition, that's undermining it."....

William McIlvanney, was faithful to the values he knew, and his views are particularly interesting in this post election season.

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